Dear Mom of the Mouthy Teen:
I saw you today in the carpool lane, the grocery line, the waiting room. Like everyone else within earshot and eyeshot, I witnessed the disrespectful behavior of your teen. And since that type of public interaction is uncomfortable for everyone (including me) I looked away—more to divert my attention from you, to give you a minute to privately deal with the situation. As much privacy as is possible in the carpool lane, the grocery line or the waiting room.
In that moment of public disrespect, your way of dealing with it, Mom, was to do nothing. Nothing. NOTHING! To everyone’s shock (and let’s face it, disgust), you said absolutely nothing to your child. Your teen called you a name, declared an expletive, turned his back on you—and you never so much as corrected that defiant child.
Congratulations, Mom. In addition to the public disrespect you received from your teen, you are now the proud recipient of the judgment and condemnation of every other parent (and non-parent) in the immediate vicinity.
Judgment and condemnation from everyone, except me.
Mom. I want you to know I do not judge you. I do not condemn you.
I SEE you.
I GET you.
I get that you, Mom of The Mouthy Teen, are an expert in choosing your battles. What people don’t know, is that every day, every minute, every interaction is a potential battle with this child. And you have wisely learned how and when to correct and when to confront. You know better than anyone that confrontation is a serious issue. Confrontation escalates quicker and more intensely than anyone expects. Confrontation means you must be prepared to hold your ground, maintain your composure, and still stand firm in the fury that is sure to ensue. You know that when you choose to confront, you have committed yourself to engage in Teen Warfare until the battle subsides. You understand better than anyone that good parenting is a balance of rules and relationship, boundaries, and grace. And you are a master of this dance. You have been dancing for quite some time now, and you chose wisely not to confront.
I get that when your teen disrespects you in public or private, no one is more shocked than you. Well-meaning people try to tell you “this is normal” “he/she will outgrow it” “you should expect this.” But nothing about this is normal. You never expect it. Every time that tone, that look, those words emerge from your child’s being, you feel like you’ve been sucker-punched. This child—the one you’ve been nurturing and protecting since you discovered you were pregnant—is the last one you would expect to publicly despise you. (Ironically, the same people who tell you “this is normal” are the ones who also judged you when you said and did nothing.)
I get that after you got home, you probably escaped to the bathroom or the laundry room or the bedroom and cried hard. You were frustrated and embarrassed. Humiliated, actually. Disrespect is humiliating.
I get that the car ride here or maybe the hours leading up to bedtime last night or perhaps Saturday morning breakfast were tense—maybe even hostile. I get that you spend much of your day trying to ignore the pit in your stomach and pretend the tension across the back of your shoulders isn’t there. I get that you long for the day when you ask your teen a simple question like, “How was school today?” and he responds simply, normally, respectfully, kindly, “It was great. How was your day, Mom?”
I get that in the hours you are alone, you have wept for this teen. Not out of frustration, but out of love. Out of concern. Out of desperation. You have gone into your child’s room, lay on the floor, and cried out to God. You have begged God to help your child. Help you. You have set on the edge of the bed, clutching the bear or the blankie or the ragdoll that used to comfort your crying toddler-turned-teen, and you’ve wished you could turn back time and comfort her with the same ease and wisdom you did when she was little.
I get that your teen probably also struggles with friend drama and identity issues. Maybe he struggles with grades or keeping a job. And when you try to coach or counsel or listen through your teen’s struggles, your teen thinks you descended from another planet several centuries ago and have no personal knowledge of or experience with any of this. Even though you, Mom, feel at times like you were a teen day-before-yesterday. And you remember with crystal clarity the confusion and complication of navigating the tumultuous teen years.
I get that your teen has probably acted out in more dangerous ways—maybe drug use or cutting or sex or anorexia. Maybe your teen has threatened to commit suicide or attempted it. Maybe your teen has threatened to run away or followed through with it. Maybe you have set on your front porch in the darkness, praying after your teen stormed out the front door. And because of this, you are scared out of your mind that if you confront this child today—in public—it may be the tipping point. This confrontation may be the one that causes her to make the dangerous choice. And at the very same time, you are scared out of your mind that if you DON’T confront this child today—in public—you will fail to erect the one boundary that will keep your teen from harming herself.
I get that you probably blame yourself for your child’s disrespect. Because you, Mom, have been so very diligent in raising her. From the time the tiny fragrant bundle was placed in your arms, you have done your very best to pour yourself into this child. You have fed and protected and counseled and instilled. You’ve rocked and read and played. You’ve sacrificed every one of your wants and needs on the Altar of Motherhood. As Mom, you learned to discern every cry, every grunt, every sniffle—and you have been so faithful to respond to your child’s need. So, when your child morphs into this young adult/child who makes reckless and irresponsible choices, you wonder where you went wrong. You wonder what you could have done differently. You remember every mistake you made—every time you lost your cool or said you were too busy. You question every decision you made and you wonder which of those contributed to your child’s disrespecting you today.
I get it that when acquaintances make small talk and ask “How are the kids?” you never know how to respond. If you were truthful, you’d say something like, “Well, let’s see, my child is failing geometry or smoking marijuana or viewing porn on his iPhone and today he told me to f*ck off on the way to school and we have another appointment with the counselor Tuesday and I spent half the afternoon on the phone with the principal (again) and all of this is taking its toll on my marriage as we cannot agree on an effective way to handle anything and the other kids are beginning to act out because they see their brother doing it and …”
But you don’t say that.
You love your child and you are hopeful and prayerful that this is the day things will change. That his heart will soften toward you, toward God. That he will grow out of it like everyone says he will. You don’t want to disrespect your child (ironically) so instead of disclosing his personal struggles, you compose yourself and put a smile on your face and tell people, “Everyone is great. They’re really great. How are you?” You say it with conviction. More of a declaration than a lie. You know that “authenticity” is the buzzword in churches and communities. But you also know that most people are not prepared or equipped for your version of authentic.
I get that when you do finally disclose a hint of the craziness that has become your family life, sometimes people trivialize your situation and ask things like, “Have you tried to take her out to dinner—just the two of you?” And you think of the thousand times you have tried and continue to try to connect with your teen in every possible way. Yes, yes, yes…you have considered taking her out to dinner. And breakfast. And lunch. And coffee. And ice cream. And shopping. For the love of all that is right and good, you have considered that, and more. Everyday. Always.
I get that you have a stack of parenting books on your nightstand, and you have read all of them. And re-read them. You have paragraphs highlighted and underlined, pages folded over, and bookmarked. You are trying so hard to do the right thing. I get that you sound a bit defensive and prideful and maybe even a little dishonest when someone suggests a great parenting book and you respond with, “Yes, I’ve read that one…twice.”
I get that sometimes you get mad at God because when you prayed to have children, this is not at all what you thought you were signing up for.
I get that every time you read a story about a teen who committed suicide, you blink back tears and pray like crazy that this headline will never, ever, EVER have your child’s name on it.
I get that when you see friends with their teens talking, laughing, connecting, you feel jealous and hope, at the exact same time.
I get that you are exhausted. That nothing else in the entire world depletes you more than this tension between you and your teen. I get that you are doing your best to take good care of yourself, so you can take good care of the lives entrusted to you.
Mom, I want you to know that you are doing a fantastic job. I don’t judge you for ignoring the public display of disrespect. I applaud you for composing yourself and choosing what you felt you needed to do at that moment. I can tell you are doing the very best you know to do.
Because we all are.
I also want you to know that even though you have probably made hundreds of mistakes with this child, it is not your fault that he/she treats you this way. God’s grace is entirely sufficient to cover all of your mistakes—parenting and otherwise. Your child belongs to God first, ultimately. You can entrust him to God’s loving care.
Finally, I want you to know that Motherhood does not define you. Opinions of judgmental strangers and defiant teens—they don’t define you either. Only God defines you. He created you, so He gets to decide who you are and why you are here.
And this is what He says about you:
Before you were formed in the womb, God knew you and appointed you. (Jeremiah 1:5)
You are a new creation, chosen by God, and created in His image. (2 Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 1:11, Genesis 1:27)
You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession. (1 Peter 2:9)
You are God’s child, holy and dearly loved—actually lavished with love! And nothing can separate you from the love of God. (John 1:12, Colossians 3:12, Romans 8:39, Galatians 3:26, 1 John 3:1-2)
You are a useful member of the body of Christ with gifts, talents, and a calling–we need you! (Romans 12:5, I Corinthians 12:27)
You have been accepted by God. (Romans 15:7)
You have the forgiveness of sins. (Ephesians 1:7)
You are no longer a slave to sin. You are free to love. (Romans 6:6)
You are under no condemnation, no matter what you’ve done. (Romans 8:1)
You can approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)
You have wisdom from God. (1 Corinthians 1:30)
You have every spiritual blessing. (Ephesians 1:3)
You have everything you need. (Philippians 4:19)
Your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Your life is hidden in Christ. (Colossians 3:1-3)
You have been bought with a price and the Spirit of the Living God lives in you. (Colossians 2:9-10, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
You are light. (Ephesians 5:8)
If God is for you, who can be against you? (Romans 8:31)
Hang in there Mom. I’m over here cheering you on.